Americans are obsessed with health: health clubs, health foods, health care. Good health is at the core of our individual and national self image. Our fittest citizens are even now in China trying to prove we are in better shape than everyone else.
But what does it mean to be healthy? Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code has done worldwide research on cultural differences. He’s uncovered the disparate views of love, sex, food, success, beauty, health and scores of other ideals that are based on a shared history and lead to a common worldview.
Rapaille points out that America, “is a nation of doers. For us, health and wellness means being able to complete your mission . . . If Americans believe they are strong enough to act, then they are healthy. Their greatest fear about being sick is their inability to do things. The code word for health and wellness in America is movement.”
I’m all American when it comes to my health. What I hate about cancer, and all other illnesses, are the restrictions they impose. Being healthy means being free to do what I want physically – within reason. Being sick means being hobbled by weakness and limitations.
When it comes to doctors, our code word is “hero” because these white-coats rescue us and restore our abilities. Our code word for nurse is “mother” because they are with us in difficult times and see to our best interests. No wonder nursing consistently tops the list of our most respected professions.
Unlike doctors and nurses, hospitals inspire a sense of foreboding. According to Rapaille, the code for hospitals in America is “processing plant.” The care-giving element is overwhelmed by medicinal and mechanical processes. If health is movement, then hospitals are decidedly unhealthy places. Once admitted, you are webbed down by tubes and cords. When you do move about, you are tethered to a pole. You can’t even leave under your own power but must be wheeled to the curb. The only institution with a more aggressive confinement policy is the penal system.
I’m thankful for all the healthcare advances that have come through hospitals but I’m also thankful I haven’t had to be hospitalized yet. I’d like to keep it that way.